When the Wild’s talented young defenseman Jared Spurgeon scored a goal early in last night’s game versus Edmonton, I was convinced the Wild would go on to win. They have rarely scored first this season, and I was excited to watch this team finally play with the lead.
While the Oilers were anything but slick, the Wild played like a machine that has a generous amount of oil running through it. (I think there is a term for this.) Outshooting Edmonton 32-7 at one point, Minnesota maintained constant pressure and kept the Oilers’ young stars in check. But the game remained 1-1 after two periods and the Wild were just one shot away from falling behind in a game they were dominating.
Mikko Koivu finally broke the stalemate as he sniped one in only nine seconds into the third period, with the aforementioned Spurgeon getting one of the assists. All-star-in-training Charlie Coyle then backhanded one in to put the Wild up by two, providing a little breathing room. Other youngsters were also pitching in and giving more glimpses of their potential, as Mikael Granlund set up Dany Heatley with several nice passes leading to scoring chances and Jonas Brodin continued to look fearless playing next to his D partner Ryan Suter. By the time these rookies are old enough to buy beer they should be firmly entrenched as fan favorites.
But Edmonton decided to make it interesting, as they lucked their way back to within one after a crazy bounce off Suter crept into the net. Just as I began to lose faith and worry the Wild were about to drop a game they had controlled the whole way, Heatley answered on the power play with a nice deflection of a Koivu blast. The Wild then withstood a rare three minute stretch of empty net play to hold on for the win.
The only real negative in the game was that über-talented and über-dirty Oiler Taylor Hall sat out with a sore hamstring. The last time these two teams met, Hall deliberately stuck his knee out into a vulnerable Cal Clutterbuck’s thigh, sending the Wild’s blue collar hero to the ice in obvious agony. Although it looked as if Clutterbuck’s season was finished, the injury turned out to only be a contusion that had so far cost him four games. Regardless, it was expected that this next Edmonton game would be when some Wild player would settle the score, and leading up to the contest I had happy visions of Hall’s face being being turned into a speed bag by enforcer Mike Rupp’s seasoned knuckles. Alas, it was not to be. Hall will eventually have to answer for his cheap shot, and hopefully Clutterbuck will have the honor of beating it out of him.
With the 4-2 win, the Wild shot up to sixth the conference standings, much more in line with where they were expected to be after their offseason additions. They seem to be gaining steam and building chemistry as their lines and defensive pairings have stabilized. With Nicklas Backstrom being his usual solid self between the pipes, the Wild are on the verge of putting it all together. I sincerely hope this is the case as a deep playoff run is long overdue for this franchise.
But I get ahead of myself. The Wild must go to Chicago on Tuesday, which should be a great test of this new found team chemistry given that the Blackhawks have set a record for the best start in NHL history. However, our Christmas-colored warriors should not be intimidated given that they are one of only three teams to beat Chicago this season, albeit in a shootout. (No one has beaten the Blackhawks in regulation yet.)
If they win on Tuesday, then it’s time to really get excited.